Huskers run over Rutgers in 42-24 romp
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In the days leading up to Saturday's showdown against Rutgers, there had been some concerns swirling that Nebraska could be walking into a potential trap game. It turned out to be anything but.
The Huskers took care of business in all aspects en route to a 42-24 victory over the Scarlet Knights. Offensively, running back Ameer Abdullah led the way once again, racking up 225 rushing yards, three touchdowns and a school-record 341 all-purpose yards. On defense, the newly anointed Blackshirts lived up to the name with three tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.
It wasn't a perfect performance by any means, as NU committed two turnovers (including four total fumbles) and five penalties along with some costly defensive breakdowns. But it was good enough to improve the Huskers to 7-1 on the year, marking its best start since 2011.
"We got the win," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I'm happy about that, but that's about all I'm happy about. I don't like the way we played. I thought we were sloppy, inconsistent, and we didn't play up to the standard that we need to play up to. I'll take the win. Any time you win a football game, it's never easy to win. But I have higher standards than what I watched out there today. It starts with me, it starts with our coaching staff, but I don't like the way we played."
For the first time in weeks, Nebraska's defense stood tall on the game's opening possession by stuffing Rutgers on a fourth-and-1 at the NU 31-yard line. The Huskers' offense wasted no time taking advantage, marching 69 yards on nine plays and taking a 7-0 lead on a 16-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tommy Armstrong.
Following another forced turnover by the Blackshirts, this time an interception by safety Nathan Gerry, kicker Drew Brown shanked a 42-yard field goal. Three plays later, RU quarterback Gary Nova eluded Nebraska's pass rush on a third-and-long and found Leonte Carroo over the middle. Carroo raced down the right sideline untouched for a 71-yard touchdown to tie it up with 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Needing an answer to regain the momentum, the Huskers did the only logical thing and gave the ball to Abdullah four plays in a row. On the fourth rush, Adbullah took it out around the right end, put a video-game juke on a defender and scampered in from 53 yards out to put NU back on top 14-7.
Abdullah then struck again on Nebraska's ensuing possession, this time breaking it up the middle and down the left sideline for a 48-yard touchdown run to push the lead up to 21-7 with 10:28 to go in the second quarter. The run put Abdullah over 100 yards for the day for the 22nd time in his career, moving him closer to passing Mike Rozier's school record of 26.
Nebraska's offense would go cold the rest of the half, including an interception by Armstrong and a fumbled snap that forced NU to punt out of its own end zone. The good news was the defense did its part and more, holding the Scarlet Knights to just 25 total yards on 20 plays the rest of the half following their long touchdown pass. To make matters worse, Nova was knocked out of the game in the final minute of the second half with an apparent knee injury.
"We were sloppy," Pelini said. "Penalties, and one thing after another. We were shooing ourselves in the foot. There were a lot of good things, but you can't take yourself out of drives and you can't get yourself behind schedule like we did numerous times. We were able to get out of it a number of times, but that's just not the way that we need to play."
Abdullah kicked off the second half with a 49-yard run, and Armstrong finished the drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass over the middle to tight end Sam Cotton. Rugters was able to get back on the scoreboard on its first drive of the half, as redshirt freshman backup quarterback Chris Laviano took over for Nova and reeled off a 46-yard scramble to set up a 41-yard field goal by Kyle Frederico to make it 28-10.
Once again, though, Abdullah proved to be too much for the Scarlet Knights to handle, as he returned the ensuing kickoff 76 yards deep into RU territory to set up a four-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to Jordan Westerkamp. Rutgers came back with another touchdown in the final seconds of the quarter, this time on a three-yard touchdown run by Desmon Peoples after another fumbled snap by the Huskers to cut the lead down to 35-17.
After sitting out the bulk of Nebraska's first two drives of the fourth quarter, Abdullah checked back in with just over eight minutes left and put the game in the bag with one last carry, running in his third touchdown of the day from 23 yards out to increase the lead to a commanding 42-17. The run gave Abdullah the school record for all-purpose yards in a game, passing Roy Helu's mark of 321 against Missouri in 2010.
"I said this week, I thought he was one of the better backs we have seen in my time at Rutgers," RU head coach Kyle Flood said. "That is 10 years and a lot of good football players. He certainly did not unimpress in person, he is very impressive and what I like about him as a runner is you see all the things you want as a runner. Excellent vision, excellent contact and balance, and you see the burst through the line of scrimmage and he has good enough speed to run away from you."
Rutgers refused to go down without a fight and punched in one last touchdown on a four-yard run by Robert Martin with 5:11 left to play to give the game its final score.
The Huskers will look to keep things rolling next week when they play host to Purdue.
"We didn't take a step back," Pelini said. "We took a step forward because we won the football game, but we've still got a ways to go."